The Cruden conundrum
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: It is the BIG question in New Zealand. Will Aaron Cruden be recalled to the All Blacks, now that he is back in New Zealand?
The 50-Test Cruden veteran, who turned 31 this week, ‘sidestepped the question with the same skill that once made him the starting flyhalf for his country.
Fronting the media after a Chiefs training Cruden, he suggested his main focus, for now, was returning the Chiefs to the Super Rugby winner’s circle and helping guide the many younger players in the squad.
“I just want to contribute to each environment I’m in and haven’t thought too much about the All Blacks,” he said.
“I’ve been removed from that environment for a few seasons and there have been a lot of changes in that scene as well.
“For me, coming back, it is more about contributing to the Chiefs.
“I obviously have aspirations of winning a title. If I can be part of that, I will be pleased.”
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His last match on home soil was the drawn third Test between the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions in an enthralling Eden Park finale.
In his absence, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett became the preferred selections, with the versatile Jordie Barrett starting there in the World Cup pool match against Namibia.
Cruden’s return gives the All Blacks another, more experienced, option for the new coaching team led by Ian Foster, who will no doubt be intrigued with how the 2011 World Cup winner goes once the Chiefs kick-off away to the Blues on January 31.
He would be eligible for the All Blacks this season, but moving ahead of Mo’unga and Barrett in the pecking order is highly unlikely after his struggles in France.
The All Blacks also called up Highlanders pivot Josh Ioane last year and he made his test debut in the final World Cup warm-up match against Tonga in Hamilton.
If Cruden’s form is compelling, he could put pressure on Ioane as the third No.10 but only time will tell.
Cruden began training with the Chiefs under new coach Warren Gatland this week and he will play this season, before heading to Japan to join Kobelco Steelers for 2021.
Returning to the Chiefs, where he won two titles was always his priority. It was the only New Zealand franchise who made an official approach although All Black and Hurricanes midfield back Ngani Laumape had enquired about his intentions.
He didn’t rule out a return to the Manawatu side either.
But for now, it was all about the Chiefs.
“Montpelier was an awesome and the rugby was very different to what we are used to in New Zealand,” he said.
“They have their way of doing things, the French style. It took me out of my comfort zone a bit, and I learnt a different style of rugby.”
Asked about the differences, Cruden said: “Controlling the middle third of the field… my approach has always been a positive one, in New Zealand that’s how we like to play.
“In Europe, they can be very pragmatic about the way they hold each zone. It was really cool to go over there and learn a bit more about that.
“They probably understand times when you can put the foot on the accelerator, when you have to pull back, and probably try to control things a little bit more.
“I’m not saying by any means that I’m perfect now, but that was one of the bigger learnings.”
Sources: Stuff, 1News & NZ Herald